There are some important fundamentals underlying proper shooting techniques that involve cover and what we'll refer to as half-assed cover, based on hard-learned lessons gleaned from nearly two decades of continuous warfare. And they all fall under the most important principle of patrolling — common sense. Yet, you'll still see outdated, old-school techniques used in the field and presented all over social media. I always say, "my way isn't the only way," but I preach what's worked for the Special Forces community during the recent wars — nothing validates doctrine and fundamentals like confirmation under fire. Regardless of what you take from this article, at a minimum, do the following: have an offensive mindset, limit your exposure to the enemy, think in terms of near and far, and use what you have to stabilize your shooting platform.
The corner of this building provides some cover as well as stability for sending more effective fire downrange. The author braces his support hand and rifle against the edge of the building.
Cover and mindset
First, let's define cover as the term's used in military doctrine. Cover is anything that provides protection from bullets, fragments, flames, and nuclear, biological, and chemical agents. Cover can be man-made or naturally occurring. Examples include logs, trees, ravines, trenches, walls, rubble, craters, and small depressions. What's half-assed cover, then? Well, you really never know… Vehicles are half-assed cover for the most part, but hat's a whole other topic in itself. And it's far better to use half-assed cover than to just stand out in the open.
Remember, we don't hide, we fight, and nothing will ever afford us complete protection. In conflict, you either fight or you hide, period — and we fight! Always maintain an offensive mindset and act accordingly.
Is a mud wall in Afghanistan thick enough to provide cover? Well it all depends where you're situated. Will a PKM smoke right through it? If someone says you should simply move to a 100-percent solid structure and fight from there, well that's just not possible in most circumstances. Perhaps you're next to a wall, the side of a building, or a door frame. They may or may not stop that PKM round, but they're often sturdy and can provide you some stability. So use what you have as support and deliver faster, more accurate follow-up shots. If you're behind something, why not use it to support yourself and your firearm? If you're not using cover to support your position, no matter if it's half-assed or not, you're doing it wrong. If you think there's theory and science behind what bullets do when they ricochet, please show us a scientifically validated study. You can apply techniques based on theory or maintain that offensive mindset. The choice is clear.
Take the sh*t and stop playing peek-a-boo
This isn't just my opinion, but also that of the Special Operations Forces community, and those who've taught in its school house and know what's right. Years ago, we'd come up to an alleyway and pie it off in a slow, methodical movement. It involved baby steps to clear the alleyway at angles to limit exposure, and we didn't use the available cover to support our firing position. Was it valid? Perhaps. But what about our shooting position? We weren't using the edge of the wall to support our shooting platforms. Could we engage someone close? Hell yes, but we weren't effective at longer distances and weren't supporting what we currently teach and refer to as a 10-round-string stance; that's a strong, stable fighting stance from which you can effectively and quickly put multiple rounds on target. We've found it's far more effective and faster to just take the alleyway by force, and then post up on the side of the wall in a stable firing position and collapse that sector.
Being able to shoot with both your strong and support side dramatically reduces your exposure behind cover.
The next time you go to the range, put up a barricade and place targets at 10 to 40 and 70 meters away. Pie off the barricade, don't support yourself, and shoot five rounds at each target while timing yourself. Next, take it by force, post up in a good stable firing position, use the barricade, and execute the same drill. Your hits will be far more accurate, and your time will be much faster. We've put in the time using simunitions and teammates playing the peek-a-boo technique — the bottom line is if someone's waiting for you to break a corner or an alleyway, he'll see you anyway. Bring a good solid supported stance and shove 10 rounds of lead down his throat rather than slowly pieing off the corner and giving up the extra stability.
There's a time and place for the pieing technique — save that for CQB. We never know how far our threat will be, and we plan for the worst case. So stop pieing sh*t off. Take it by force and post up while you collapse your sector of that alleyway or when you turn the corner of a house on a raid.
If you're fighting from behind something, use it. Using your piece of cover or even half-assed cover will further stabilize your firing platform. The goal is to put fast, accurate follow-up shots on target, so use what's in front of you. It doesn't matter if you have a rifle or a pistol. Yes, there are a lot of great shooters that could run up to a barricade or position of cover and crush targets without a support. That's great when running drills on the flat range, but the flat range is not reality. Reality is when you're pulling security in an isolation or containment position — you'll definitely benefit from using what's in front of you to support yourself for extended periods of time. Then add in stress, adrenaline, the dark of night, weather, fatigue, and maybe an injury, like being down to one arm or hand.
There's no single, best way to support your carbine on a piece of cover. The key is to get meat between your weapon and what you're using for cover. That means your hands; it's not a good idea to support yourself with equipment connected to your blaster. There are some exceptions, like laying your carbine flat on its side at 90 degrees. You definitely don't want the slide of a pistol touching anything; we all know what'll happen — a lot of shooter-induced malfunctions. Place the meaty portion of your palm against cover and form an L to support and brace your rifle. Use your forearm to brace against awkwardly shaped pieces of cover or half-assed cover like the front end of a vehicle. With a pistol, dig your knuckles into cover or use your support thumb to hook onto cover as well. However, attempt to maintain a solid fundamental grip on the pistol, and don't let the piece of cover totally support you.
Being able to shoot with both your strong and support side dramatically reduces your exposure behind cover.
Square up to your piece of cover as best as you can. This isn't a USPSA or three-gun match where you can be off balance, rip off two shots, and haul ass to the next position. Establish a solid base, square up to cover, and remember our 10-round-string stance. Squaring up also keeps legs and knees in a tight position so teammates aren't tripping over legs at night. Who knows how many others will need to share that piece of cover with you.
When kneeling, always keep the outside knee up. Right or wrong? It's a technique we teach. It provides a stable platform to drop your arm and tuck it into your thigh. It also avoids legs sticking out and tripping teammates as they run past the alleyway you're posted up on. So, square up and support your firing platform, and remember the 10-round-string stance, no matter what awkward position you might find yourself in.
Limit your exposure
Limiting exposure sounds like common sense, but what it really means is you need to be an ambidextrous gunfighter. People get small and seek cover when it's raining lead. Whether standing or kneeling, squaring up helps — you don't want to expose yourself needlessly, yet you must stabilize yourself to support that 10-round string of fire.
Vehicles are half-assed cover, but you should still use them as support.
First, don't try to conceal yourself so much that you give up both a stable firing position and the ability to fight effecively. Remember, we must have an offensive mindset — we don't hide. Second, you have to shoot strong and support side — don't forget we don't have a weak side (see issue 7 of CONCEALMENT for more on weak sides). If you're on the left side of something, you should shoot from the left side of your body with a carbine. The same applies for the right side of cover. Your mindset and training philosophy should be to become fully ambidextrous, especially when it comes to shooting around cover. Put in the practice time on the range.
Oh sh*t vehicle tactics
Vehicles aren't cover; they're half-assed cover. Yet the philosophy of using them to support yourself still applies. Be offensive and seek better positions like the rear of the vehicle, the engine block, and axles. This philosophy comes from battlefield experience, and is presented as doctrine in SOF and law enforcement training. First, have you seen ballistic data on ricochets? Bullet type, distance, angle, and so on; there are too many factors that influence what bullets will do when they hit sh*t. We used to have beer shoots, skipping rounds off car hoods into the A zone of targets. We knew the distance and where best to try to aim, but the reality is that there's no telling where that bullet will go.
Kneeling with the outside knee up provides a more stable shooting platform than the alternative. Always have an offensive mindset.
It's fine to take these things into consideration, but you shouldn't avoid using the vehicle to support yourself. Most vehicle interdictions in military terms are close range, but not all of them… and not all engagements are at close range. So apply the same techniques for shooting around vehicles as for around walls. Of course, if the bad guy's 5 feet away, you don't have to support yourself on a vehicle. But some say that ricochet theories dictate that you shouldn't support yourself on a vehicle. In my book, that's not an offensive mindset, and we should always have an offensive mindset.
Outside the vehicle
So, get up close and personal on the outside of your vehicle. Use it to support yourself and your shots. Yes, vehicles don't stop bullets, but what about armored or military vehicles? Don't correlate this all to vehicles, but the principles apply to both. If you're in an engagement, using the engine block or front of the vehicle to fight from, why would you be 3 to 5 feet away from the vehicle? Then, how would you support yourself in a junkyard prone position on the hood? If your threat is 5 feet away, you don't need support; but what if it isn't? Think night; think far.
When shooting underneath a vehicle, get close to it.
Second, consider fighting in a hostile environment where threats are at the rooftop level. The further you move away from a vehicle, the more exposed you are. You also limit your fields of fire. Try backing away from a piece of cover, then shoot underneath or over it — you better have some good loophole math locked into memory to avoid putting rounds into your cover in a stressful situation! Shooting underneath a vehicle certainly reduces your situational awareness, but you might need to do it at some point. I've seen it before — it's easy with a gun truck, not so easy under a BMW with the tires blown out. When you only have a couple inches to get it done, hug those axles and get that gun up underneath the vehicle to get your shots off. This becomes very difficult when you're several meters from the vehicle.
Inside the vehicle
When fighting from a vehicle, there are certain areas of the vehicles that afford better protection than others. Probably not the front two seats, though shooting through the front windshield is a viable option, if needed.
When shooting through windshields, don't be stingy.
I've shot numerous types of ammunition through windshields, from inside and out. There's one rule to remember — P for Plenty, plenty of lead! No matter what type of ammunition you use, it'll take multiple shots through the same hole to get good hits on target. If a threat's approaching your vehicle and you must engage through the windshield, put a couple rounds into the same hole and then jam your muzzle into the hole. To adjust your aim and point of impact, move your body. Never walk rounds across the windshield; you won't make the positive contact you need to eliminate the threat.
Contingencies of gunfighting
Should you ever find yourself injured and in an engagement when behind cover, or half-assed cover, you'll need that platform to support yourself. Don't train or think of the best case scenarios at all time. Train and develop techniques that apply to contingencies as well. When rounds are flying, it shouldn't be your first time figuring out how to fire your pistol one handed from behind a wall or how to support yourself using the wall.
Get meat between your weapon and the support — with a pistol as shown here, you can dig your knuckles into the fender.
There aren't any right answers when sh*t hits the fan and it's raining lead. What you do and how you do it on the range is the answer. There are a lot of ways to do things, but if you're fighting from behind cover (or half-assed cover), utilize the following four fundamentals.
- Have an offensive mindset
- Limit your exposure
- Think near and far for engagements
- Support yourself to provide a solid, 10-round string firing position
Also don't forget common sense, one of the principles of patrolling. If it works at night, in the rain and cold, when you're exhausted or injured, then you're on the right track. Fast, accurate shots win the day. Prepare yourself to take advantage of what's around you and practice supported shooting from behind cover. Apply the fundamentals and push forward; remember that on the range, everything is a rehearsal for something.
Photos by Blake Rea and RECOIL Staff
This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.
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